Assets of Asim Bajwa, family challenged, general refutes allegations of corruption

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Two ministers hope general will clarify his position,

politicians and public figures demand for clarification

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s prominent journalist Ahmed Noorani has ignited last week a tail of story of alleged massive corruptions which have become the talk of the town within and outside Pakistan through his website and social media widely.

The details which are astonishing and unbelievable circle around none other than an influential name of Pakistan Army, i.e. Lt. Gen ® Asim Saleem Bajwa and his family.

Ahmed Noorani who has written extensively about the country’s powerful military and intelligence agency, stands by his details and in his latest 16-minute interview has challenged the very prominent general to come forward with proofs to deny his allegations. Notwithstanding, his allegations could not lifted in print media but gather a storm in Pakistan and a selected of TV channels dared to air the story already displayed in detail on “Fact Focus” website.

Lt. Gen (r) Asim Saleem Bajwa

Ahmed Noorani claims that Asim Bajwa declined to respond to his website “Fact Focus” when asked through different WhatsApp messages and a Twitter post if there are any bank accounts maintained in the name of his wife in the United States, and why he declared that he and his wife have no business capital outside Pakistan.

But another report says that in response to the story, Gen ® Asim Bajwa tweeted: “A malicious propaganda story published on an unknown site, against me and my family, (just uploaded on social media) is strongly rebutted.”

Sofar two federal ministers have spoken on the issue hoping that Gen Asim, also Special Assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan on Information and Broadcasting will clarify his position.

Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Shibli Faraz through a tweet stated on Tuesday that Mr Bajwa would talk about the news report regarding his assets in the next few days. He said: “I’ve spoken to Asim Bajwa Sahib, he will explain in detail his viewpoint on stories about his assets in the next few days.”

Earlier, talking to reporters in his hometown Multan on Thursday, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had claimed that the authenticity of the news report on the alleged offshore properties and businesses of Asim Saleem Bajwa and his family would be clear soon.

The image displayed at Fact Focus website shows (from right) – Lt Gen (R) Asim Saleem Bajwa, sons Muhammad Saleem Bajwa, Eusha Saleem Bajwa, Azib Saleem Bajwa, and wife Farrukh Zeba

“It is now a common practice that the news is run without confirmation. A news should be made public once it is confirmed. The truth in this case will come to the fore soon,” the minister had stated.

Ahmed Noorani writes that the growth of the Bajwa family’s business empire in the United States and later in Pakistan directly matches the rise in power of retired general Asim Saleem Bajwa, who is now chairman of the country’s massive China-financed infrastructure project CPEC and a special assistant for Information to the Prime Minister Imran Khan.

According to the report, Asim Bajwa’s younger brothers opened their first Papa John’s pizza restaurant in 2002, the year he went to work for General Pervez Musharraf as a lieutenant colonel on the military dictator’s staff.

The report claims that Nadeem Bajwa, 53, who started as a delivery driver for the pizza restaurant franchise, his brothers and Asim Bajwa’s wife and sons now own a business empire which set up 99 companies in four countries, including a pizza franchise with 133 restaurants worth an estimated $39.9 million. Out of total 99 companies, 66 are main companies, 33 companies are branch companies of some of the main companies while five companies are dead now.

The report says that the Bajwa family’s companies spent an estimated $52.2 million to develop their businesses and $14.5 million to purchase properties in the United States, while Asim Bajwa and his department were encouraging Pakistanis to invest within their relatively undeveloped country. The businesses of the Bajwa family through different companies were named as Bajco Group.

Ahmed Noorani claims that Asim Bajwa’s sons joined the Bajco Group companies in 2015 and also started establishing new companies independent of the Bajco Group in Pakistan and in the United States after he became director general of ISPR and commander of the Southern Command.

The report documented that in his declaration of assets and liabilities signed in June as special assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan, Asim Bajwa declared an investment of $18,468 (rupees 3.1 million) in his wife’s name. Asim declared that he and his wife have no “Immovable Property Held outside Pakistan”. Asim also categorically declared that neither he nor his wife have any “Business Capital outside Pakistan”. If in his declaration, Asim wanted to declare his wife’s investments in United States by writing Rs3.1 million in the column of “Investments”, he could never have written word “NIL” in the specific column “Business Capital Outside Pakistan”.

PBC’s reaction

The claimed investigating story has taken a new turn and politicians and other social figures have expressed their views demanding the retired general to come forward with facts and figures.

The Pakistan Bar Council (PBC), Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) in a joint statement “strongly condemned” death threats hurled at senior journalist Ahmad Noorani for writing an investigative piece about the business fortunes of close relatives of a retired army officer and prime minister’s aide.

The statement, issued by PBC vice chairman Abid Saqi, HRCP chairperson Dr Mehdi Hasan and secretary general Harris Khalique, PFUJ president Shahzada Zulfikar and secretary general Nasir Zaidi, “denounced this well-orchestrated campaign” against the journalist, declaring him anti-state and agent of the enemy.

The statement maintains that if anyone has any complaint against Mr Noorani’s story, they should approach courts. “The bar, press, and civil society leaderships urge the government to provide protection to Mr Noorani and investigate elements behind these threats to the journalist.”

They reminded the government that Mr Noorani had been brutally attacked a few years ago and the culprits got off scot-free. Expressing full support for Mr Noorani, the statement calls upon all human rights organisations and civil society to take note of the situation where voices of dissent are being curbed through brute force and even abduction of journalists.

“Freedom of expression is under more threat under this government than it was during the martial law regimes. We stand for freedom of expression and speech, and would resist any attempt to impose any curbs on them,” the statement concluded.

Farhatullah Babar

Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) secretary general and former senator Farhatullah Babar on Monday demanded a thorough probe into the investigative news report published on a website about alleged offshore properties and businesses of Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Infor­mation retired Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa and his close family members.

Mr Babar said there was a need to carry out investigations to ascertain how the alleged businesses of Mr Bajwa’s family members multiplied in other countries in proportion to his rise along the official ladder in Pakistan. “The official documents quoted in the report apparently lend credence to it,” he said, adding that this had raised serious questions about the fidelity of solemn declarations made by the SAPM last month.

The PPP leader said that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the anti-graft watchdog that always claimed to have looked at the nature of cases and not the faces of individuals, was totally silent in this matter. “Too much is at stake to turn a blind eye,” he added. “Restoring credibility demands that the report is appropriately responded to in a transparent, effective and convincing manner,” he said, adding that “silence or closing eyes is not an option”.

He said: “Discrimination, selective application of the law, some more equal than others has weakened the fabric of state and society which must come to an end.” Following the report’s publication, retired Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa, who is also chairman of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Authority, denied the allegations on Twitter. He said: “A malicious propaganda story published on an unknown site, against me and my family, is strongly rebutted.”

Speaking at a protest demonstration organised by the Defence of Human Rights and civil society organisations outside the National Press Club on Monday evening to observe the International Day of the Disappeared, PPP leader Farhatullah Babar said enforced disappearance was a crime against humanity under the international law and warned that one day the world might wake up and take notice of the impunity with which people continue to disappear in the country without a trace.

Maryam Nawaz

PML-N vice-president Maryam Nawaz on Tuesday said that the process of accountability of one person would not affect the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and asked CPEC Chairman and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Infor­mation retired Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa to face the allegations against him.

Referring to a recently published investigative news report about alleged offshore properties and businesses of Bajwa and his close family members, Maryam said that the answer to questions raised by the report should not be that it was a “conspiracy against CPEC”.

She was speaking to reporters after appearing at the Islamabad High Court (IHC) for the hearing of an appeal against her conviction, along with that of her father, Nawaz Sharif, and husband, Muhammad Safdar, in the Avenfield reference.

“If the founder of CPEC [Nawaz Sharif], who brought investment of $60 billion to Pakistan and was removed because of one iqamah and that did not affect the project, then the removal or addition of one person won’t affect CPEC. “It is the matter of an individual. Allegations have been made against him [Bajwa] and he should answer them.”

Maryam said that the evidence against Bajwa was “huge” and called for him to clarify his position in front of the nation. “If you have been appointed to a government post on taxpayers’ money and allegations are made against you and evidence is presented, you should face them,” she said.

“In our case, it was like making a mountain out of a molehill but still we served punishments thrice. If you have been accused and evidence has been brought, then you should not hesitate to face the law. [Imran Khan] used to say that Nawaz has left the country which has weakened his narrative of accountability. Then he used to say that someone has gotten bail [or] someone has been acquitted so his narrative of accountability has weakened”, she added.

“I want to question Imran Khan and his government that today, when allegations have been made against Asim Saleem Bajwa with proof, why is his narrative of accountability sleeping? Is there no challenge to his narrative of accountability now?”

Maryam Nawaz said that everyone was equal under the law and if she and her father could serve jail time for “false cases”, then nobody else could be exempted either. “If Nawaz Sharif can face the law and serve jail time, if his daughter who is not holding a government post can serve punishments twice, once for six months and the second time for five months and stay in a death cell, if Nawaz Sharif can reach the point of death in jail and surrender to the law then whether it is Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz, Shehbaz Sharif, Imran Khan, Asim Saleem Bajwa, Mir Shakilur Rehman, Qazi Faez Isa or Sarina Isa, they are equal in the eyes of the law,” she said.

“If Qazi Faez Isa, while being a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, and Nawaz Sharif, a three-time former prime minister, [and] their wives and daughter while not being government employees can face the law then there is no exemption for anyone,” she emphasised.

Responding to a question, Maryam said Nawaz would return to the country “the day his condition was out of danger”. She also spoke about the sacking two months ago of Arshad Malik, former judge of an accountability court who had convicted former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in the Al-Azizia reference and acquitted him in the Flagship reference. “His (Judge Arshad Malik’s) confession was a black mark on justice which [the PTI government] tried to wash away,” she said and demanded that the conviction in the reference he adjudicated be overturned.”After this case, Imran Khan and his government should make preparations for the burial of their accountability narrative,” she said.